James R. Short, 58, a historian and an officer of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation in Virginia, died of cancer Saturday at the Williamsburg Community Hospital.

Mr. Short joined the foundation, a nonprofit corporation responsible for preserving the restored 18th-century Virginia capital, in 1955. He served as director of an oral history project, as general editor for publications and films and as director of the division of preservation and research before being named to his present position as senior program officer.

He was responsible for long-range development of the foundation's education objectives.

He taught history at the University of Tennessee and was a historian for the Virginia State Library before moving to Williamsburg.

Mr. Short was born in Gastonia, N.C. He graduated from Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Va., and earned a master's degree in history from Yale University.

During World War II, he was a first lieutenant in the Army's 4th Infantry Division and later contributed to and edited a history of the division.

He also edited a volume of essays, "Historic Preservation Today," which was part of an edition of "The Journal of Maj. George Washington," and wrote numerous articles on Virginia history.

Survivors include his wife, Catherine Yates Short, and two sons, Johnathan Y. and David C., all of Williamsburg; two sisters, Mrs. E.S. Sumpter and Mrs. H.D. Walker, both of Canton, N.C., and a brother, David J. Short of Richmond.

The family suggests that expressions of sympathy be in the form of contributions to the Williamsburg Regional Library Book Fund or to the James R. Short Scholarship Fund, c/o Antiques Forum Registrar at Colonial Williamsburg.